“With a world that is waiting for us to make a mistake and digitally immortalize those mistakes, empathy seems to be a lost skill and trait.” —American Counseling Association (ACA)
It’s sad to say in our business-driven world, but the role of empathy in our lives seems to have waned. Profits and sales hog the spotlight, and we exhaust ourselves keeping pace with the frenetic demands of a lightning-fast digital world. That exhaustion has a price: Our ability to care for both ourselves and others.
This is not to say that empathy is dead. As several standard-bearer companies across the U.S. show us, building empathetic policies and practices into corporate structure helps retain top talent and keeps them motivated, happy, and growing. And fortunately for the masses, once-lost acts of compassion now spread virally across social media with millions virtually applauding little acts of kindness. This reinforces the value and importance of empathy, holding up a new kind of everyday heroism.
In light of the struggle between harried culture and quiet but necessary empathy, it’s worth asking ourselves: Are we compassionate people who have the ability (and interest) to relate to the struggles of others?
We built this test to help you answer that very question. Take 5 minutes, complete the test (honestly!), and total your score. At the end of this article, you’ll find guidance on how to become a more empathetic person—and how that empathy can redound to your personal and professional growth. (Note: If you don’t have a spouse or coworkers, respond as if you did. What would your answer look like?)
The Empathy Test
1. How many times over the last week did you ask a coworker how they were doing?
d. Every single day
2. How many times over the last week did you ask your spouse about his/her day?
a. I haven’t seen my spouse in a while.
b. A couple
c. I usually ask them after they ask me.
d. Every day or multiple times every day
3. How many times over the last week did you recognize a stranger in need?
a. I’m usually in my own world.
b. One or two, but I kept my distance.
c. I saw one and almost said something to them, but I didn’t.
d. Several, sadly. I see a lot of people who could use help.
4. How many times over the last week did you help a stranger in need?
a. Never. No way.
b. I was tempted, but decided not to.
c. Once or twice I gave out some money.
d. I spent time with people who needed help at least once—maybe more.
5. How many unsolicited favors did you do to help people out last week?
a. I don’t do favors unless they’re requested.
b. I did one or two. I’m hoping they “pay me back.”
c. I think a did a couple, mostly impulsively. It felt good.
d. I try to do one favor for someone every day (or as frequently as I can).
6. The last time you saw a friend in crisis, how did you respond?
a. I left them alone. They don’t need someone interfering.
b. I sent them a quick text message wishing them well.
c. I called them and asked if they needed to talk.
d. I visited them and made sure they had everything they needed.
7. If your ordinarily friendly coworker were to yell at you or say something insulting—seemingly unprovoked—how would you respond?
a. Yell/insult back. I don’t put up with that.
b. Ignore them.
c. Call HR and tell them he/she is being hurtful, and that they probably need some help.
d. Let him/her finish yelling/insulting, calm down, then ask if everything is okay and/or if I can help.
8. When you get home from work after a long day, how do you engage friends and family?
a. “Leave me alone.”
b. “Hi, I’m just going to go watch TV now.”
c. “It’s good to see you. Hope you had a good day.”
d. “Hey! So good to be home. Tell me about your day…”
9. When you hear about an acquaintance, separated by several degrees, suffering serious hardship—a death, serious illness, business failure, or other tragedy—what do you usually think?
b. “That’s a shame I guess.”
c. “That’s awful! I hope he/she gets better!”
d. “Let me see if I can find their address/number so I can reach out …”
10. If you heard about a childhood bully dying at a young age unexpectedly, how would you respond?
a. “Good riddance.”
b. “I mean, I guess he/she kind of had it coming.”
c. “He/she wasn’t very nice, but it still sucks.”
d. “That’s terrible. Nobody should die that young.”
11. A misbehaving, but well-meaning, coworker gets fired when he/she can’t afford to be out of work. How do you say goodbye?
a. Total avoidance.
c. “It was good working with you. Thanks for all of your help.”
d. “Thanks for everything! Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you land a new job.”
Ready to score?
All “A” choices get 0 points.
All “B” choices get 1 points.
All “C” choices get 2 point.
All “D” choices get 3 points.
If your total is:
27-33 points: You are an exceedingly empathetic person who is constantly thinking about the wellbeing of others. This empathy sometimes causes you to forget your own needs and priorities, though, so don’t lose sight of what you need to do for yourself.
22-26 points: You have empathetic inclinations, but sometimes can’t be bothered to go out of your way to help someone in need—not because you don’t care, but because you’re too tired or busy. Generally, though, you wish the best for people and feel genuine compassion for those who suffer. If there’s anything you need to work on, it’s setting aside some time/energy for others.
15-21 points: Sad to say, you’re kind of self-absorbed. You seldom recognize need around you and even less often take the time to help others (unless it happens to be convenient for you). You have your moments, though; for those you really care about, you make a point to offer assistance when requested.
Fewer than 15 points: You’re kind of a jerk. But the mere fact that you took this test means you have interest in becoming a more empathetic person, so be conscious of need where it exists and set a goal to do some unsolicited favors this week (see below for more tips). Don’t expect any returns; just do it for the sake of goodwill. Your self-worth and relationships will thank you.
Need some tips on how to build empathy?
Here are a few pointers to keep in mind:
- Be intent on acknowledging other people’s views. The best way to do this is to listen quietly to their input without interjecting, then summarize their opinions/thoughts in your own mind. You can even repeat this back to them to let them know that you listened and understood.
- Whenever you meet someone’s eyes, say “hello.” This often induces a smile and brightens someone’s day. But it can also lead to conversation. Use this as an opportunity to ask how their day is, what they do, etc. In other words, show interest in them. Don’t limit this to friends, family, and coworkers; greet strangers, too.
- Examine your motivations. This is hard to do at first—especially for people who are impulsive. But if you set aside some time for self-reflection at the end of the day, review some of your conversations and actions. Were they all about you? Did they consider other people? If they didn’t, how can you change your habits/actions so that they take others’ needs into account?
- Pay it forward. This one is simple. Every time someone does a good deed for you, make a point to pass a good deed along to someone else. It’s an easy way of keeping generosity, empathy, and goodwill top-of-mind.
- Ask people for help and advice. This engenders a trust with others and builds the foundation of a solid relationship. Asking others for advice means you 1) value their expertise and 2) are genuinely curious about how a given circumstance or decision would affect them. Even better: You’ll find that this is readily reciprocated.
- BONUS: Download this poster and hang it in your office. It will remind you WHY you strive for empathy and how it can better your home, your workplace, and the community at large.